January 18, 2010 / 12:04 AM / 10 years ago

U.S. and U.N. boost Haiti aid security as food drops in

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - U.S. troops protected aid handouts and the United Nations sought extra peacekeepers in earthquake-shattered Haiti on Monday as marauding looters emptied wrecked shops and desperate survivors began to receive medical care and air-dropped food.

A girl reaches out for goods thrown by looters from a destroyed store in downtown Port-au-Prince, January 18, 2010. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Hundreds of scavengers and looters swarmed over damaged stores in Port-au-Prince, seizing goods and fighting among themselves, but some signs of normality returned as street vendors emerged with fruit and vegetables for sale.

“We do not have the capacity to fix this situation. Haiti needs help ... the Americans are welcome here. But where are they? We need them here on the street with us,” said policeman Dorsainvil Robenson, deployed to chase looters in the capital.

Crowds gathered to plead for food, water and jobs outside installations being used by the United Nations, U.S. military and international relief agencies. Jordanian peacekeepers kicked Haitians and fired in the air over a crowd clamoring outside the Port-au-Prince airport, witnesses said.

Some 2,200 Marines with heavy earth-moving equipment, medical aid and helicopters were arriving on Monday, and the White House said more than 11,000 U.S. military personnel are on the ground, on ships offshore or en route.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said he had recommended to the Security Council that 1,500 police and 2,000 troops be added to the 9,000-member U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti.

World leaders have promised massive amounts of assistance to rebuild Haiti since Tuesday’s 7.0 magnitude quake killed as many as 200,000 people and left Port-au-Prince in ruins.

Haitian President Rene Preval appealed to donors to focus not just on immediate aid for Haitians but also on long-term development of the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

“We cannot just cure the wounds of the earthquake. We must develop the economy, agriculture, education, health and reinforce democratic institutions,” he said at a conference of donors in neighboring Dominican Republic.


Dominican President Leonel Fernandez, hosting the meeting, proposed the creation of a $2 billion-a-year fund to finance Haiti’s recovery over five years.

European Union institutions and member states have offered more than 400 million euros ($575.6 million) in emergency and longer-term assistance to Haiti.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, meanwhile, proposed that African nations offer Haitians the chance to resettle in “the land of their ancestors”.

“Africa should offer Haitians the chance to return home. It is their right,” Wade said on his website. Local media quoted Senegalese officials as saying the West African country was ready to offer parcels of fertile land to Haitians.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the U.N. Special Envoy to Haiti, pitched straight into the aid effort by unloading bottles of water from a plane after landing in Port-au-Prince.


Aid workers struggled to get food and medical help to injured and hungry survivors, many living in makeshift camps on streets strewn with debris and decomposing bodies.

Nearly a week into the crisis, international aid was just starting to get through to those in need, delayed by logistical logjams and security concerns.

Preval said U.S. troops will help U.N. peacekeepers keep order on Haiti’s increasingly lawless streets, where overstretched police and U.N. peacekeepers have been unable to provide full security.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said U.S. forces would not play a police role but would defend themselves and “have the right to defend innocent Haitians and members of the international community if they see something happen.”

Another U.S. military official said the violence was isolated and was not impeding the humanitarian aid mission.

Haiti’s weak government was crippled by the quake that damaged the presidential palace and state buildings, forcing cabinet ministers to meet outdoors on plastic chairs.

In an indication of the sensitivity of U.S. soldiers operating in a Caribbean state where they have intervened in the past, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused Washington of “occupying Haiti undercover.”


Streets piled with debris slowed the delivery of medical and food supplies, but there were signs of progress as international medical teams took over damaged hospitals where seriously injured people had lain untreated for days.

Rescue teams raced against time to find people alive under the rubble of collapsed buildings, with more successful rescues of survivors reported six days after the disaster.

Trucks piled with corpses were ferrying bodies to hurriedly excavated mass graves outside the city, but tens of thousands of victims are still believed buried under the rubble.

With people becoming more desperate by the day, looters swarmed smashed shops in downtown Port-au-Prince, fighting each other with knives, hammers, ice-picks and rocks while police tried to disperse them with gunfire. At least two suspected looters were shot dead on Sunday, witnesses said.

Heavily armed gang members have returned to the Cite Soleil shantytown since breaking out of prison after the quake.

“Whether things explode is all down to whether help gets through from the international community,” said police commander Ralph Jean-Brice, in charge of Haiti’s West Department, whose force is down by half due to the quake.

Mayors, businessmen and bankers told Preval that restoring security was essential for reviving at least some commercial activity. The sprawling Croix de Bossales food market reopened but with the banks still shut, “People have no money to buy anything,” said Joseph Desilme, who works at the market.


More than 30 countries have rushed rescue teams, doctors, field hospitals, food, medicine and other supplies to Haiti, choking the one-runway airport where the control tower was knocked out by the quake.

U.S. military officers hope to reopen Port-au-Prince’s shattered seaport in two or three days, but are relying for now on airdrops to distribute food and water by helicopter. Desperate Haitians jostled to grab the packets thrown from helicopters that swooped down over camp sites.

A C-17 cargo plane, flying round-trip from Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina, air-dropped 14,000 packaged “meals ready to eat” and 14,000 quarts of water to quake survivors, the U.S. military said.

The U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne set up a base at the Petionville Club, organizing orderly queues to distribute water bottles and meal packs to the 50,000 survivors who pitched tents on Haiti’s only golf course. Exhausted soldiers slept on the tennis courts.

Fuel prices have doubled, and there were huge queues outside gas stations, where cars, motorbikes and people with jerrycans have lined up. Haitian police stand guard at some.

Although a few street markets began selling vegetables, charcoal, chicken and pork, tens of thousands of survivors across the city were still clamoring for help.

Slideshow (34 Images)

“We haven’t moved for four days, only God knows how long we can survive like this, but there are no jobs and no houses,” said Marie Gracieuse Baptiste, a single mother with four children, sheltering at one improvised camp.

A crude sign at the camp read: “People needs water, food.”

Additional reporting by Tom Brown and Joseph Guyler Delva in Port-au-Prince, Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations, Frank Jack Daniel in Caracas, Mark John and Diadie Ba in Dakar, and David Brunnstrom in Brussels, writing by Anthony Boadle and Pascal Fletcher, editing by Kieran Murray and Chris Wilson

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